Saturday, March 10, 2012

of castles and cottages (in dante's "new zealand")

a castle familiar to my girls group

It's coming to a close quite quickly all of a sudden..... a few more weeks left of this term, all of which are being swallowed up hastily in the hustle and bustle of SetFree preparation....a  short holiday..... and then a new term begins - a term in which Richard and I will be assistants, not captains - a term which we will only glimpse briefly before departing.  It's really coming to a close.


I will finally now frankly admit that there was a time I thought the end could not come quickly enough. My feelings in the beginning were nothing short of despair. I joke now that my first eight months here were hell and the second eight were purgatory - but these last eight have been far more like heaven then I ever thought Mission to New Zealand could be. Those first months were lonely, disorienting and overwhelming far beyond anything I had thought to prepare for. There was such a gap between the expectation of missionary life and its reality. For example, I had imagined having sheep and cows outside our kitchen window - instead, the Lord gave me Bayfair Mall and a skatepark.

More importantly, it seemed I could not be the mother I wanted to be with all that our life here entailed. Conversely, I could not be the missionary I wanted to be with all that motherhood entailed. I knew without a doubt which duties ought to take precedence, but was afraid of letting so many other people down. Things were too hectic and I was too weighed down to do even the simplest things to make our new life feel like home, which - in turn - crushed even more of the joy and life out of me. I felt I was failing at being a mother and a wife, the roles to which I feel most committed to fulfilling with excellence. I didn't feel like much of a missionary either. There were few people I could talk to about my struggle without fear of offending them, worrying them or giving them license to say I told you so.

The darkness was so intense that waiting for Joseph's birth was often the only little thread of "hope" I was holding onto. Sometimes I still look into his sweet eyes and marvel at how much he helped me before I ever even saw his tiny little face for the first time. For me there's something about being pregnant - nine months of expectant hope with the promise of perfect joy at the end. It's a real metaphor for the life of faith. Looking like a hippo and enduring the agonies of labor are a small price to pay for the bliss of looking into the newborn's sweet wrinkly face and saying, "It was you! All this time....YOU!" Likewise, I imagine that looking like a fool to the "world" - and enduring the agonies of death - will seem a small price to pay for the bliss of finally looking into the Lord's beautifully radiant face and saying, "It was You! All that time...YOU!"

another castle the girls' group knows and loves well


Joseph's illness made those middle months an obvious period of suffering for Rich and I both - but this suffering was actually a blessing for me (heavily disguised) as it straightened out in my own heart what was truly important and gave me courage to act on those convictions. It also brought me out of myself and gave me a sense of how blessed actually I was. And so it was during my many hospital "retreats" with Joseph that I started to find peace. In a true sense, I enjoyed my stays in the two Ronald McDonald Houses, and in the Children's Ward at Tauranga Hospital, and on the Medical Specialties Floor at Starship. For days at a time, I was alone with my precious, vulnerable baby. I had nothing to do all day but be totally present to him. There were no meals to cook, no toilets to clean, no laundry to hang, no sisters to read to. There was nothing but Joseph. I was given the gift of utterly uninterrupted time with my son - and I used that time to the full to bond with him (in a way that most mothers would not be able to do with a third-born child!) When he slept, I prayed for him - and read - and reflected on how I could do this missionary thing better. And, after many days of hospital food and missing my girls and being so, so far away from Richard, it was always nice to come home. "Home" - and our everyday missionary life - always gained in comparison to Hospital Life.

classical castle-with-moat


So now I'm in the "heaven" stage. I'll still be very happy to get home, but it's going to be a bittersweet departure. Truthfully. It's hard to even put my finger on why these months feel so different. Joseph is healthy. That one is obvious. Also, the end is in sight, which makes the difficult things so much easier to bear. (Enormous cockroach in the underwear drawer? Ah, well, just two more months of semi-tropical insect housemates. Neighbors blasting rap and screaming profanities at 3AM? Well just a few more months and then I highly doubt I'll be calling the cops on the octogenarian Barths! )  Thirdly, we've been here long enough to start to see some really solid fruit of our labors, which makes it all have a point. And we love these kids - we've been here long enough to really know them and to love them.

where is she going with all this castle stuff anyway?

There are plenty more reasons why this has been the honeymoon stage for me, but one of the more significant reasons is that the Lord has done great things for me over the past few months. After sixteen months of pretty much smashing me to the ground, He's finally showing me the blueprints for the new edifice. He's got the digger out and He's busy. See, for the past thirty-three years, I've been assuming that I'm meant to be a castle. With a moat. Possibly with a dragon too. A real Fortress. Perfect. Majestic. Impervious. (Imposing).  So I've been working - real hard - on that plan. In New Zealand, the Lord has finally made me understand that all He wants me to be is a cottage. I was shocked. A cottage! Yes, a cottage. A sweet, humble, attractive little cottage. Strong and very well made - but not a castle. Pretty and charming - but not a palace. Inviting and homey - moat, and certainly no dragon. Even though theoretically it should be so much easier to be a cottage, after three decades of trying to be a castle there are lots of new habits to learn. But....I am learning.


The Lord planted the seeds before we left, at our farewell party, where Fr. Jean-Luc preached, My vocation is not "for me". How those words have stayed with me and grown with me over the past two years. To explain the significance of the words and their impact on me would be a whole other blog post, (and perhaps one I will write). But though those words got something started, this current "heaven" experience did not start properly unfolding until the first Tyburn monastery trip with the girls' group in late August. The Tyburn monastery is almost heaven. And it was there that I saw a perfect little cottage among the pointy hills and the gentle alpaca.... and experienced joy....and realized it had been a long, long, long time since I'd felt that once-familiar emotion.

another fine kelly

And then there's Vivian, the spiritual director who stumbled accidentally into my living room a few months ago and has since become one of the most influential people of my whole life. Through Vivian have come great books and fresh perspectives and new routines like waking, walking & praying at 6am every day. (How I dreaded getting up in the dark every morning - and now I can't imagine coping with three children all day without beginning in silence - and prayer & exercise.) The overall effect is a great deal of peace and joy, of order and rhythms and good routines, of feeling really well-connected to God and my husband and my kids - and going to bed at night feeling like it was a really good day. I didn't think I was going to get those things back until I returned home. Instead the Lord has shown me how to depend totally on Him for these things rather than any of the changing circumstances of my life.  These are some of the lessons that have made these two years some of the most precious of my life, even if they have been the hardest as well. It turns out now that He didn't call me here to totally undo me - He brought me here to remake me. But for those who know me personally, please do not be expecting construction to wrap up anytime soon....I'm still really just in the stage of being a muddy hole in the ground with cement bags lying around chaotically. All I'm really saying is that I've seen the blueprints - and I like them.
a more realistic kelly